Max Headroom, obviously. Short Circuit, too. The A-Team, splatter films, Terminator vision with the Cylon eye sweep and sound effect. Preppie villain Deke, you son of a bitch, with Mack and The D giving each other the Predator soul brother handshake. Rambo/Batman-esque suiting up montage. Dalek reference.
This is the neon shark we’re going to jump, but not today, Satan. NOT TODAY.
Everybody is going nuts about all the nods to the 80s, but it really is very impressive that all these references actually add up to a coherent narrative. And, honestly, it looks like the Other Whedons have finally embraced what fellow Spunkybean writer Mark Espinosa and I have been saying for, like, ever: when you let your hair down and have a blast, it really makes for fun TV.
They obviously have watched a few episodes of Legends on the CW.
But first, a few observations about S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. It’s no secret that the super-spy show I had wanted largely went by the wayside after season one, and, you know, that’s fine, and I watched, but S.H.I.E.L.D. as an organization that had its own HQ on the banks of the Potomac and was run by Robert Redford has never really been made to make sense in the show. Sure, there was a Science Academy for budding agents (there was a Hydra Academy, too!), but S.H.I.E.L.D. itself is a disgraced organization. Look what the Trump administration has done just by simply cutting funding; where is all the aviation fuel running the Zephyr and its quinjet coming from? Now, the team is cascading through time, using its one standing set, I mean, the Lighthouse as a touchstone. Yes, S.H.I.E.L.D. is vital in the Fifties (Welcome back, Daniel Sousa) and The Tick’s porno-mustache Director in the Seventies ran a tight, Steranko-flavored ship. The Eighties should be full-on, vital, Gordon Gecko-flavored excess. I mean, they leaned into the cheesiness like old Star Trek and told a powerful story about loss, friendship, and the meaning of family, but, come on, five episodes left and you’re still doing bottle shows?
I love how one-note comic relief Deke drove every emotional cue in that episode, and still never once acted out of character. That’s a satisfying turn for the writers and for Jeff Ward, who has been doing some heavy lifting, this season. Changing the words to “Sister Christian” to a love letter to Daisy because he couldn’t remember the lyrics was hilarious. Mark Espinosa even watched it again with subtitles on because it was so perfect. “Love’s strange, so ready or not/Here I come like a buzz, running thunder like blood” made me laugh to beat the band. “He’s just singing gibberish that sounds about right,” Mark said, making me think of every time my kid tries to sing along with the classic rock station.
So let’s talk about Phil. I love they reincarnated him as Max Headroom, because that is such an obvious call but also a potent commentary. Max Headroom began life as a one-off UK-produced TV movie that started life as a 2000AD-style satirical look at commercial science fiction and pop culture through the lens of Blade Runner-inspired cyberpunk aesthetic. Running the gamut to nascent VJ and talk-show host, then gobbled up by American corporate interests to have an ABC show who’s only remit was to shit on TV shows. A TV show about horrible TV shows are? I really can’t believe that show got produced. And then Max became a corporate pitchman for realizes as the voice of Coca-Cola, leading to an Ouroborous-level of parody as Doonesbury used a version of Max to represent Ronald Reagan in the strip. So what started as a satire of excess and observations on pop culture became the thing it laughed at, excessive and ubiquitous as Max became.
It’s great to take the beleaguered officious mid-level management guy and make him the Sixth Man to the Avengers and then kill him and bring him back on TV and cut off his hand and then kill him again and bring him back as a Spock-with-beard version from the Meanie Dimension and then kill that guy and then bring Season Four Phil back as an LMD and blow him up and make him Max Headroom, for an episode, is a really very cool and almost subversive commentary on #CoulsonLives Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s becoming the thing they were created to be an answer to.
The timelines are so crossed and messed up and whatever that the only thing I want to see on this show is Coulson has always been an LMD and the last shot of the series is him trying to get an appointment with Tony in 2008.